Murdered language

Thursday, October 7th, 2004

Whenever truth is murdered, the blood at the scene has a high irony content.

“In this young century, our world needs a new definition of security. Our security is not merely found in spheres of influence or some balance of power; the security of our world is found in the advancing rights of mankind.

“These rights are advancing across the world. And across the world, the enemies of human rights are responding with violence.”

Hello? Down is up, you say? War is peace? This was President Bush the other day, deigning to address the world, which by about a three-to-one margin sees him as the number-one destabilizing force on the planet. That didn’t stop the landlord of Abu Ghraib from lecturing the U.N. General Assembly about, ahem, human rights.

Every time I hear the president speak, I get an anxiety attack that’s a lot more complicated than merely disagreeing with him. I become desperate for oxygen.

What GOP heavies do at street level — keep anyone who might harbor unscripted thoughts out of the arenas and assembly halls where their leader is scheduled to talk — White House speechwriters do with far more efficiency at podium level. They interlock feel-good phrases so seamlessly, when the president utters them there’s no room for doubt. You can only conclude that God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world (at least the American-occupied part).

If truth is a complex wetland, Bush’s words are the mall parking lot paved over it.

“Terrorists and their allies believe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Bill of Rights and every charter of liberty ever written are lies to be burned and destroyed and forgotten.

“They believe the dictators should control every mind and tongue in the Middle East and beyond.

“They believe that suicide and torture and murder are fully justified to serve any goal they declare. And they act on their beliefs.”

Boo, hiss. This is an enemy as black-hatted and dastardly as any silent-film or Saturday morning cartoon villain you’ve ever met, but don’t you fret now, world, because, “We’re determined to destroy terror networks wherever they operate . . .”

And there’s the case for pre-emptive invasion; carpet-bombed cities; occupation; torture; open-ended imprisonment; the slaughter of women and children; and the contamination of two countries with several thousand tons of depleted uranium dust, exposure to which is linked to a ghastly array of health problems, including leukemia, lung cancer, liver disease, bone disease and birth defects. (The child of a GI who returned from Iraq last year was born this summer with three missing fingers; a subsequent urine test showed the vet had DU exposure.)

In my opinion, terrorism begins with murdered language. What’s intolerable about listening to Bush is the airtightness of the lie he constructs out of the shredded language of human hope.

An hour before the president addressed the General Assembly, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke to the same group, pre-rebutting, you might say, the case for benevolent U.S. dominance that Bush was about to make.

“Every nation that proclaims the rule of law at home must respect it abroad,” he said, “and every nation that insists on it abroad must enforce it at home. . . .

“Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it; and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it.”

As if!

But what if words truly mattered? What if the pen really were mightier than the sword, and words that merely stood their ground and declared a principle, words that served no superpower’s agenda, could disarm war criminals?

Well, maybe they can. I take heart, at least, that voter registration is way up. That’s the big news this week — “a record surge” of new voters is swamping county election officials from coast to coast, the New York Times and many other papers report. The most enticing deluges, of course, are in the swing states.

Something’s simmering. The pressure of being lied to has driven countless Americans into activism on behalf of middle-of-the-roader John Kerry, potential inheritor of a mandate he barely acknowledges.

That’s a disconnect to be dealt with later (I hope). For now, “the advancing rights of mankind” have a showdown on Nov. 2.